Health & Safety

8 Signs that Could Mean Your College Student is Depressed

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By Lorena Roberts, Uloop

For first-time parents of college students, it can be difficult to read the signs you’re getting from your child. You might find yourself confused about why they aren’t reaching out, or maybe you’re frustrated that they’re calling you every day. Whether or not you’ve considered the fact that your college student may be depressed, it’s important that you know how to recognize the signs of depression. If you haven’t seen this Mayo Clinic video on YouTube, you might find that it’s a fantastic resource for reassuring parents.

Sleeping too much – or too little. 

Before you assume that this is a sign of depression, realize that sleep patterns are often irregular during the first part of college. While your student is getting used to their new schedule, having time between classes, and being within 10 steps of some of their newest best friends, many college students find napping/staying up late to be comforting. It’s very common for college students to have irregular sleep patterns, but if this continues for your student through the first semester and you’re feeling unsettled about it, that could be a sign that they’re feeling depressed.

Depending on whether or not your student has excelled in scheduling their classes, assignments, and sleep schedules in the past (like during high school), you’ll know what’s normal and what isn’t. If you feel that your college student is sleeping way too much or not at all, it could be a sign that they’re feeling down in the dumps.

Feelings of hopelessness or emptiness. 

If your conversations with your college student include expressions of hopelessness or emptiness, that’s a good indicator that your student is feeling some depression. It’s common for college students to feel like they can’t do it. Oftentimes, in the first few weeks of classes, students are overwhelmed with what’s expected of them. If they don’t have experience with syllabi and knowing all of their assignments ahead of time, if they’ve never had to plan out when to write their papers, it can be too overwhelming to even attempt to tackle.

If your college student sounds like they’ve lost all hope, they’re more than likely feeling depressed. They’re feeling like they can’t do it, and there’s no point in trying. And while we all, at some point or another, have waves of theses feelings, you should only be concerned if it persists.

Unexplained body aches/pains. 

Depression has a major impact on your body: physically. If your college student is complaining about aches and pains and doesn’t seem to have any kind of reason as to how they occurred, it could mean depression is taking it’s toll. Your college student may try to solve this by taking daily doses of ibuprofen or turning to other drugs. Always encourage them to visit the student health center and get checked out by a doctor. More than likely, they’re going to screen your student for depression and get them the help they need!

Loss of interest in things they used to enjoy. 

If your student enjoyed sports in high school or being part of the drama club, and they haven’t explored these kinds of activities in college, it might be a sign that they’re feeling depressed. Depression can rob you of your job and make you feel like doing things with other people won’t be fun. It’s hard to even muster up the energy to go out with friends. This is probably one of the easiest ways to tell if your student is feeling depressed.

Changes in appetite. 

If you’ve noticed that your college student is skipping meals, or they’re not going to the dining hall and binge-eating ice cream and Ramen noodles, this could be a good indicator that your student is feeling depressed. Appetite is a funny thing, and depression can easily mess with it. When you talk with your college student, ask them if they’re eating regularly.

Lacking energy, no motivation  

Having no motivation is one of the first signs that your student is feeling depressed. They’ll often express putting off their homework, feeling like they don’t have the energy to even look at it. They’ll express feeling overwhelmed with details of an assignment.

Oftentimes, college students feeling depressed won’t even feel motivated to go to class. In turn, this will lead to a drop in their grades, making them feel even more worthless and down in the dumps. It’s quite the cycle of events. Once your student gets started in the cycle of depression, it’s tough to get out alone. Be there to lend a hand, or an ear, whenever they need it.

Inconsistent academic performance. 

If your student flew through high school with straight A’s and they’re now struggling to even attend class in college, that’s a good indicator that something is wrong. Whether it’s depression or not, stay on the safe side and look into why their behavior has so drastically changed.

Academically successful students typically enjoy college. Once they get used to their new routine, they want to excel. If your student is showing signs of disliking school, their grades are declining, and they aren’t attending class, depression should be at the top of your suspicion list.

Thoughts of death or suicide.

Since the 1950s, the suicide rate among young adults has tripled. If your college student is depressed, it’s not unlikely that they’re thinking about suicide. Before you throw yourself into a state of anxiety and start shaking- know that suicide thoughts are on a spectrum. Contemplating what it would be like and actually going through with it are two different stages of depression. It’s important that you reach out to your college student before they get too far down the spectrum.

If you have any suspicion that your college student might be depressed, look for these signs in their behavior. When in doubt, reach out to your student, let them know that they have a strong support system behind them. Letting them know that they have people to talk to, someone to turn to, is the best thing you can do for your student.

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